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Germany: ‘Wagenknecht Party’ for the EU Election 2024?

In 2008, DIE LINKE (The Left in the European Parliament – GUE/NGL) shook up German politics. Some pollsters saw the newly established left-wing party at 15% nationwide, a remarkable result for one of Germany’s more minor parties at the time. After this peak, a slow and steady decline began, often attributed to the constant infighting within the party, which is divided into numerous camps along ideological and personal lines. In 2021, during the national parliament election, the party dropped to 4.9%, only securing representation through three first-past-the-post and equalisation seats but failing to do so via the regular list vote.

While the party continues to soul-search for unity, another challenge puts its parliamentary survival at risk: Sahra Wagenknecht, one of the most popular politicians in the country and LINKE MP, publicly continues to speculate about a new party – essentially arguing in a YouTube video published last month (22 January 2023) that the only reason that she has not created a new party yet is the rigid party law in Germany. Wagenknecht has been at odds with the LINKE leadership numerous times and has been critiqued for publicly promoting her own policy ideas.

Wagenknecht has a remarkable number of social media followers (~625,000 on Facebook) and subscribers (~637,000 on YouTube). An INSA poll for BILD in October 2022 showed that 10% of voters in Germany would vote for a Wagenknecht party ‘for sure.’ Another 30% would consider it. 33% said it would be good if Wagenknecht ran during the next national parliament election. This share stood at 66% among LINKE voters, 63% among AfD (Identity and Democracy) voters, and 40% among FDP (Renew Europe) voters, spelling trouble for all of these parties should Wagenknecht indeed stand with her own party in elections. In December, a Forsa poll for Stern found that 19% of voters could consider voting for a Wagenknecht party. This share stands at 28% in Eastern Germany and 24% among men. Forsa found that Wagenknecht appeals more to AfD voters (74%) than LINKE voters (55%).

For new parties, the timing of elections matters. If election dates are still far away or if electoral goals are not achieved, it often leads to a terminal loss of initial steam and enthusiasm for younger, and until then untainted and undefeated, parties. The European election in 2024 would be an ideal first election for a Wagenknecht party, as the electoral threshold is lower than during national or regional elections. It would almost certainly lead to a few seats in Brussels-Strasbourg and significant media attention. The preceding regional elections are either too soon (Berlin, Bremen) or happen in structurally conservative states where Wagenknecht risks not mobilising enough voters (Bavaria, Hesse) to overcome the high threshold of 5% to enter parliament.

Ideologically, Wagenknecht has an anti-liberal message with a Neo-Marxist tune. For example, Wagenknecht argues that the elites in industrialised countries benefit from low wages due to increasing labour migration. This would also harm the countries where emigration occurs: ‘because it is mostly people with better education from the middle class who emigrate.’ In consequence, Wagenknecht opposes liberal migration policies. Wagenknecht also opposes the current sanction regime against Russia. After she publicly stated that in the national parliament, 809 members left the party within a few weeks, more than ever before in the history of the Left Party.

A Wagenknecht party could potentially join the Left Group in the EU Parliament, although partnering with LINKE would certainly raise eyebrows. Joining Identity and Democracy, which shares her distaste for liberal immigration policies, is rather unlikely as Wagenknecht continues to distance herself from the far-right. Hence, Wagenknecht could participate in forming a new parliamentary group in the EU Parliament or remain a Non-Inscrits.